Friday, 24 January 2014

Failure of the Small Presses

When I first started writing for publication I favoured the small plucky presses manned by a team of enthusiastic oddballs over the (Royal)-We-are-Overworked-and-Too-Popular-For-You intimidation of larger presses. It made sense to start with the underdogs and move towards venues with larger readerships, as I wanted to have stories published without the wait and slog of resending to motivate me as a writer. As I acquired a decent roster of small plucky press credits, the time came for me to try my work in more popular magazines, and the frustration of having to wait a long time to be turned down was less prominent—I was able to let stories vanish into inboxes and work on novels without the need to be validated by frequent publication. Over that period, I noticed the wait for responses became longer, and the likelihood of no peep of a response became stronger—even among small presses.

I have an innate craving for the underdog. I love the rabid underdoggery of small presses. I prefer reading esoteric literature ignored by the masses. I find difficulty in books more stimulating than flowable prose and conventions. My own writing refuses to make itself accessible or find a snug niche to help publishers sell. If the large presses represent a willingness to adapt one’s writing for a mass audience, to be understood by thousands, the small presses are meant to represent the tendency in literature to be cryptic, stubborn, unpigeonholable. I have an ideal view that the small press world should be one integrated community, where underdogs bark and bray to publish innovative, daring and original literature, and to be “accessible” in a way that large presses are “stubborn” when it comes to communicating with authors.

Alas, doggie’s lost his bone. There is a distinct failure among small presses (I am leaning more towards those that publish novels over short fiction here) to offer an alternative to the large-press wall-of-silence that comes when a manuscript is posted into oblivion. Small presses manned by a staff of two, in full-time employ, with full-time families, cannot possibly offer feedback to writers who submit manuscripts, and one has to wonder—why are these people running presses, if they aren’t kicking against the frustrations that tussling with large presses bring? Why do small press owners never seek to prioritise offering (brief) feedback to manuscripts or to speak to authors about improvements? If small presses can’t take the time to fart out a small paragraph of encouragement or advice to authors, can they ever expect to receive work of the standard they desire?

The problem is, small presses, like large ones, want masterpieces in their inboxes ready to publish with a minimum of editing (although large presses do have editors and want to work with authors to improve manuscripts). They aren’t willing to waste their skill as editors or teachers on work that has definite promise, or could become a masterpiece—why waste time when a masterpiece may turn up on their doorstep from one of the thousand or so MA programs?—and even if a masterpiece shows up, there’s nothing they can do if it won’t sell. The small press is even more helpless in the marketplace, and innovation is the first thing to die when it comes to finding a selling hook—money being the natural slaughterer of all things beautiful. These things aside, I still feel the small presses have an obligation to communicate more with authors. If the supposed guerilla DIY presses are simply as silent and unwelcoming of manuscripts as the big presses—the author continues to be the one getting stiffed.

One press I submitted to boasted “we are the future of publishing.” After sending my manuscript for consideration, I received no confirmation response, and over four months has passed without a reply. Some future.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

54 Marriages in One Year! – The Foolproof Guide to Dating Without Dating, Sex Without Sex, and Marriage Without Marriage

Guest post by Dr. Chad Fortnight

Are you like me in that you simply don’t have time to follow through on long-term relationships due to a pell-mell non-stop no-time-to-breathe whirlwind helter-skelter schedule of 24-hour stuff that never seems to end? Do you regret the hours spent wasted in bars chatting to interesting and attractive people who it would take an absolute age to become closer to on date after date after date after time-eating date? Are you cynical about the prospect of keeping one partner for life, knowing full well the limited lifespan most marriages have in the modern world and the complications with kids that can cause? You need the ‘potential’ dating plan. A foolproof system that allows you to experience lifelong relationships over seven days, through a simple process of honing mind over matter.

Step 1. Choose a man or woman who appeals to you, and ask them out on a date. (If they refuse, you can attempt the following steps by merely observing the person from afar, but for now, it is advisable to start with a mutually agreed date). One the date has been scheduled, make a list of the aspects of their appearance that both appeal to and annoy you, and a provisional list of the traits that frustrate and delight you.

Step 2. Go on the date. Make sure the date is person-centred, not an activity. A quiet drink a restaurant or bar is fine. Ask the person about their past relationships, their family, their current occupation, their dreams, hopes, goals, and opinions on as many topics as possible. Make mental notes. (Taking actual notes is not advised, as it might ruin the prospect of the essential second date). Be sure to come across as interested in the person and make an effort conversationally yourself, to secure the second date.

Step 3. During the gap between dates, write down all the facts about this person and begin constructing scenarios that might arise in a long-term relationship—the fun activities together, sources of argument, incompatibilities, shared pleasures. Lie back on your bed and imagine as many of these scenarios as possible. To conduct a full ‘potential’ relationship, take each of these scenarios (or character traits) to an endpoint where the relationship will terminate. Squeeze as much pleasure as possible from the traits that appeal to you and take them towards the realm of frustration and departure. Here is an example:

a. Both like tennis. Scene: on tennis court where you banter and smile and laugh and have healthy fun. You don’t mind his or her competitive nature, until later he or she becomes determined to win and is less kind to you about your flaws. Arguments about balls being ‘in’ or ‘out’ spring up until the tennis stops completely.

b. Dislike of housework. Scene: when you are both married and have children and you are forced into doing more of the dishes and housework due to his or her domineering nature, and laziness in matters of domesticity. You may then decide to break up on the basis of this inequality and arrange visiting rights for the child.

c. Fondness for musicals. Scene: you indulge your partner’s fondness for this entertainment until it becomes clear they are completely shut off to other musical forms, and other forms of entertainment like books or cinema, and what you thought was a harmless trait has become an intolerable narrowness they refused to change.

Step 4. Second date. At this point, all the traits you dislike about the person should be amplified enough for this date to be the last—and good riddance. If you find you discover new traits of the person during the date that appeal to you, try to devise quick scenarios where these traits may cause frustration and unhappiness using the practice you have put in over the week. Remember to remain aloof on the date so the person doesn’t like you.